In a COVID-19 World, Smaller Group Sizes are Emerging as a Traveler Option—if not Favorite. Among the emerging trends that became apparent as a result of the tour operator discussions that have taken place over the past four months during the “Staying Connected” series of virtual roundtables organized by Connect Travel is the emergence of a smaller tour product, a development driven by the need to offer smaller tour products that will accommodate the desire to maintain improved hygiene standards and greater social distances between guests and, at the same time, maintain the uniqueness of the group travel experience. For the moment, this means either smaller groups on large buses or still smaller group sizes requiring smaller buses or vans for transportation. While the standards are still an emerging work in progress, here is a sampling of the type of products that are being marketed to travelers for whom less is more, or that smaller is better.
—Insight Vacations is launching small, private group journeys for 12-plus guests that are typically part of its Fall, Winter & Spring itineraries to Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and North America. Guests can now create their own “travel bubble” on their selected Fall, Winter & Spring journey with a new Private Group Options for an additional benefit to their journey. Select from 38 specific itineraries included in its 2020-2021Fall, Winter & Spring collection. This offering is a brand innovation, says the company, “keeping guests’ well-being and comfort in mind while truly understanding the current traveler’s needs around re-connecting with their families and friends in a post-COVID-19 world.” The new Small Private Group option will be available in destinations that are expected to make a strong comeback such as North America Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Jordan, and European Christmas Markets.
—Discover Your Italy, a small boutique operator based in Perugia, Italy—about 105 miles north of Rome—which has previously only offered customized private tours, is dealing with the situation by offering a new line of seven small-group tours to debut in 2021. Scheduled to be launched next spring, these tours will be limited in size to 20 guests and will feature a new collaboration with Autentico Hotels, a collection of 16 upscale family-owned and operated boutique hotels located in the destination. The group is an associate member of U.S. Tour Operators Association and will be adhering to safety and hygiene protocols set in place with the TourCare guidelines established this past spring by the Canadian Association of Tour Operators (CATO), the European Tourism Association (ETOA), and USTOA.
—G Adventures, a global adventure travel operator—it is based in Toronto, Ontario, with 28 offices worldwide, is offering its Travel with Confidence Plus Collection, a new portfolio of small-group tours with physical distancing in mind. In addition to smaller group size, the Travel with Confidence Plus Collection also offers increased hygiene and sanitization across all its tours. (G Adventures is also partnering with the Adventure Travel Association to create a set of industry safety guidelines, including rules for trekking, biking and rafting, created in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic.)
All trips will have between eight to 10 travelers, down from the average group size of 12, and will feature the exclusive use of private vehicles on land, with distanced, assigned seating; a My Own Room option for 50 percent-off across all tours in the collection; and more personal guestroom space and guaranteed in suite bathrooms.
—Global tour operator Trafalgar (It has headquarters offices in Geneva and London) is offering private trips for groups of 12 or more. The option is available for most of the company’s winter and spring itineraries throughout Europe and North America. The company tells us that the trips include all the benefits of the company’s traditional guided itineraries such as guides and the company’s new well-being directors. The pricing includes a per-person surcharge on top of the normal group rates, with the additional charges varying based on the size of the group. For instance, the rate would be 30% above advertised prices for groups of 12 to 15. That would drop to 20 percent for groups of 16 to 19, 10 percent for groups of 20 to 25 and no additional cost for groups of 26 or more.
—Meanwhile, Globus, a global operator based in Zurich, and which has been in business for more than 90 years, is promoting is European Private Touring Program; although it is not a new product, it is being repositioned as particularly pandemic-friendly. As part of the program, groups in sizes from two to 24 can create their own private version of any Globus Europe tour and tinker with it according to the interests of the group. Tours include the services of a dedicated tour director, private transportation and private guides.